Members of Brookhaven’s Social Justice, Race and Equity Commission discussed the rise of anti-Asian sentiment and racism in the wake of March 16 mass shootings in Atlanta and Acworth where six Asian women were murdered. 

“While this particular incident is still under investigation and some are reticent to call it a hate crime, what we know is all too clear,” said Mindy Kao, a consultant to the commission from the firm Chrysalis Lab, at the group’s March 18 meeting. “The shooter targeted three Asian businesses and his victims were predominantly Asian in a region that is only 6% Asian. Actions speak louder than words.” 

Brookhaven established the SJREC in September to address issues of diversity and race in the city and to make recommendations to improve the city’s practices of hiring and retention, procurement and contracting, and policing. 

Kao said although the murders did not occur in Brookhaven, the city is not immune to anti-Asian rhetoric or incidents. The city includes part of Buford Highway, a community known for a highly diverse immigrant population.

“Five percent of Brookhaven residents, or 3,327 residents, are of Asian descent,” she said. “Members of this commission are of Asian descent. So we ask the question, how do we make sure your recommendations reflect the reality that we see before us today?” 

Other commissioners said they plan to become involved in the immediate aftermath of the killings. Commissioner Shahrukh Arif, who works with the Asian Americans Advocacy Fund, said the organization has been focusing on outreach to the affected families and businesses. Commissioner Kyle R. Williams, the dean of students at Brookhaven’s Oglethorpe University, said the university is working with its new vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Laura Renee Chandler, to create a safe space for students to talk about those issues. 

Over the past year, crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans have risen dramatically, according to Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that keeps track of violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. The group reported 3,292 “hate incidents” in 2020, which include violent crimes, harassment and discriminatory behavior.

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.